Thursday, October 26, 2006
The real reason I don’t make comics as much these days
I do not mean to imply by writing this column that my time as a self-publisher had any kind of big impact. However, I made a lot of friends through it, and as a result, I often get asked when I’ll return to the drawing board. I haven’t been completely inactive in the past five years. In addition to pin-ups done for friends here and there, I’ve done some short stories, including the one in the all-ages anthology Imagination Rocket and of course, the back-up story in Scott Roberts’ Patty Cake last year. Fact is, though, I don’t make comics as much as I used to, and when I tell people why, I usually cite my newfound satisfaction with writing, and my attempt to become a better comics journalist. This is true, and always has been. But there’s another, deeper reason as well.
In 1998, while on tour to promote my superhero comic Celebrity, I met a girl. She got under my skin in a way that I never could’ve dreamed. A shared love of comics in general and Strangers in Paradise in particular was only the start. At the time, I was finally beginning to get a clue that things weren’t gonna happen the way I wanted them to with the girl I was in love with then (which led to the creation of Rat, but that’s another story). At first this new girl seemed like just another fan; enthusiastic, a little more garrulous than most, but a fan nonetheless. But then we started to hang out… and we got to know each other better… and it wasn’t long before I saw her in a completely new light.
She wanted to learn about me as much as I wanted to learn about her. And I found myself easily opening up to her more and more, to the point where I was suddenly telling her my Deepest Secrets (though not without some gentle prodding). To my amazement, she did not recoil in horror, but was instead sympathetic and supportive, in such a caring manner that I couldn’t believe it. How could I not fall passionately in love with her? How could I not seriously consider uprooting from New York and moving to Boston to be with her? How could I not want to devote the rest of my life to her happiness?
But of course, it wasn’t anywhere near as simple as that. She came with – not “issues,” necessarily, but complications. Big ones. I won’t go into them here, but the point is that these complications were an inherent part of her nature, and if I was to accept her, I’d have to accept them as well. I went through a great amount of soul-searching (and a little bit of research) to attempt to understand them and their repercussions, and as much as I wrestled with my conscience over the whole thing, I could never come to a decision about what to do.
She continued to be the same with me as she always was. I distinctly remember how eager I was to show her off to my friends at the Small Press Expo in 2000. I wanted them to see her the way I did. Regrettably, she was unable to make it after getting in a car accident (not serious). I was ready to blow off SPX completely and come see her, but on the phone she insisted I stay. I ended up taking a late bus out of DC on Saturday night and rode straight to Boston. I wound up kneeling by her bedside like it was all some goddamn fairy tale. I was there when she awoke, my hand in hers, and she was happy to see me. We spent the rest of the day together.
The last time I saw her was Christmas Day 2001. We parted as well as we always did that day, but by that point the complications were reaching a threshold. They were becoming increasingly difficult for me to get a handle on, but I kept rationalizing them in my mind because nothing mattered more than her. I did not make a conscious decision to stop seeing her at the time – at least I’m fairly sure I didn’t – but she cut off all contact with me. Never answered my e-mails or letters. In 2002 I sent her a Strangers in Paradise poster autographed and personalized by Terry Moore at SPX. I assume she got it, but she gave no indication that she did. I called her from SPX that year; never reached her. All this despite the fact that we never had anything close to a serious argument at any time and that she never gave me any indication she was mad at me. Quite the opposite in fact. That last Christmas she fretted that she was unable to spend more time with me; she got invited to a party at the last minute and brought me along (it was extremely awkward since I didn’t know anybody). Plus she had to work that weekend; also unexpectedly. She still managed to get me a gift, though, as I did for her, and she was sad to see me go. She got under my skin. And she never got back out.
I figured out how to draw her in cartoon form long ago. When I got a new sketchbook during the 2001 Baltimore Comicon, I would draw her in different superhero costumes. After that last Christmas, the urge to continue drawing her, over and over again, to keep her in my memory, grew stronger than my desire to make any new comics. So now that sketchbook is filled almost exclusively with images of her. Every time I sit down with it, I don’t want to draw anything else… and it’s beginning to bother me a little bit because, as friends have advised me, I need to forget her. I had to be talked out of going back up to Boston after SPX last year to try and reconcile whatever went wrong with us, if anything (strange how much I associate her with SPX even though we’ve never been there together). Oddly enough, months ago I got an e-mail from an address with her name on it, but it turned out to be an automated message (i.e., one she didn’t write herself) inviting me to be part of some kind of cell phone chat group or something. Which would be great if I had a cell phone! I sent her a Christmas card last year – it came back to me weeks later. Turns out she’s moved.
So I can’t see her or talk to her… all that’s left is for me to draw her. And it’s become so important for me to hold on to this one bit of her that any other kind of drawing doesn’t mean as much. I have done other work, as I already indicated, and I even recently started on a short story featuring an old character, but no matter how I try, I can’t help but go back to that sketchbook. It’s as if it were possible to have her reappear in my life again if I draw her enough times. I know it’s irrational. I know it’s illogical. But this is how it is right now.